Ongoing Research

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Civil Society and Social Capital

Drinking Tea with the Neighbors: Social Capital and Social Trust in Mali – with Phillipe LeMay-Boucher, Jacopo Bonan, and Bassirou Sarr

This is the first study of social capital in the developing world that leverages original data on informal associations and their members to better understand the link between membership, trust, and trustworthiness. We analyze the relationship between indigenous group membership and generalized trust in Mali – a poor, ethno-linguistically diverse state with high levels of insecurity. The study uses a trust game to explore existing levels of social trust and trustworthiness in Mali among members of social clubs, locally referred to as grins, as compared to non-members. We demonstrate that grins embody characteristics of associations that theorists of social capital believe to generate trust and trustworthiness by bridging diverse nodes of society. Our empirical work points to five main results: 1) on the whole we observe small variations on how Malians in general, so grin members and non-members, play with linguistic insiders compared to with outsiders or when there is no language specified; 2) grin members appear more trusting than non-members and are strongly more trustworthy than non-members; 3) within the subsample of members, ethnic diversity within grins is associated with greater trust; 4) within the subsample of members, having an IDP as a member of your grin is associated with lower levels of trustworthiness and 5) grin membership is positively correlated with high attitudinal trust towards various groups and institutions.

Read our initial policy paper for the USAID DRG Program here. (link:

Funding: USAID Innovation Grant, Notre Dame Helen Kellogg Institute for International Studies, the American Council of Learned Societies, and Scottish Institute for Economic Research

Indigenous Associations and Public goods Provision: Experimental Evidence from Informal Associations in Mali – with Jacopo Bonan, Philippe LeMay-Boucher, and Bassirou A. Sarr

This paper uses a public goods games to evaluate whether members of informal associations contribute to public goods at higher rates than non members. We play games with 463 informal association member groups (playing with each other), 178 groups of non-member strangers, and 222 groups made of strangers who are members. We find that group members only perform better when they play with their co-members. In these groups, we observe a larger proportion of players contributing and a greater probability that the group will reach the winning threshold. Consistent with previous literature, we find that individuals playing in larger groups are less likely to contribute to public goods and that members of more ethnically homogenous groups contribute at higher rates.

Social Interaction and Technology Adoption: Experimental Evidence from Improved Cookstoves in Mali – with Jacopo Bonan, Pietro Battiston, Philippe LeMay-Boucher, Stefano Pareglio, Bassirou A. Sarr, and Massimo Tavoni

We investigate the role of social interaction in technology adoption by conducting a field experiment in neighborhoods of Bamako. We invited women to attend a training/marketing session, where information on a more efficient cooking stove was provided and the chance to purchase the product at market price was offered. We randomly provided an information nudge on a peer’s willingness to buy an improved cookstove. We find that women purchase and use the product more when they receive information on a peer who purchased (or previously owned) the product, particularly if she is viewed as respected. In general, we find positive direct and spillover effects of attending the session. We also investigate whether social interaction plays a role in technology diffusion. We find that women who participated in the session, but did not buy during the intervention, are more likely to adopt the product when more women living around them own it. We investigate the mechanisms and provide evidence supporting imitation effects, rather than social learning or constraint interaction.

Social Clubs and Social Capital: Youth Conversations About Mali’s Democratic Recovery

This book project aims to reveal Malian youth attitudes towards four areas central to the recovery of the democratic Malian state: youth citizenship, democracy and governance, allegiance to the state and other subgroups, and social cohesion. It does so by exploring these themes through focus group discussion in youth social clubs – locally referred to as grin. These informal associations foster social capital by generating discussion and debate and by bridging diverse members of Malian society. These clubs are typically thought of as a gathering place for youth to drink tea and discuss quotidian topics: girls, cars, and politics. The book project draws on data already collected during the author’s 18 months of fieldwork in Mali from 2014-2017. It draws on more than 60 focus group transcripts from two cities, Bamako and Mopti/Sevare, conducted at a time of heightening political instability.

Funding: American Council of Learned Scholars Fellowship, USAID Democracy, Rights, and Governance Innovation Grant

Citizenship and Governance

Dressing for Success: Can a Uniform Distribution Shape Local Governance Outcomes in Malawi – with Tushi Baul, Boniface Dulani, Emily Maiden, and Juan Valdez

As part of a broader governance evaluation of governance trainings for Catholic Relief Services, this project looks at the impact of a uniform distribution program to village development committee (VDC) leaders in three districts in Malawi.   Can dress affect the way that citizens’ perceive leaders, the way leaders perceive themselves, and coordination and cooperation within villages?   We evaluate whether the uniform distribution is associated with VDC members’ greater efficacy and commitment to their jobs, more positive perceptions of VDC members by citizens, and broader improved governance outcomes. 

AEA RCT Registration: (link –

Leadership public goods provision: Evidence from patrilineal and matrilineal societies in Malawi – with Tushi Baul, Tanya Rosenblat, and Juan Valdez

We conduct a lab-in-field experiment to analyze gender differences in public goods provision of local village development committee leaders across patrilineal and matrilineal societies in Malawi. We find the public goods provision is lower in matrilineal societies. However, we do not find gender differences in public goods provision in these two societies.

Funding: Catholic Relief Services

Assessing the Rally Effect in Mali? Domestic and International Legitimacy in the Context of Continued Territorial Threat – with Lauren Honig, Sidiki Guindo, and Andrea Peña-Vasquez

Political science has identified a rally effect: political leaders enjoy higher approval ratings in the face of threatening events. To date, this phenomenon has not been treated extensively in comparative studies outside of the US. This paper tests the existence of a rally in a weak state with ongoing attacks, using original longitudinal public opinion data from a representative sample of 1200 respondents in Mali’s capital between 2011 and 2016. In the period of study, Mali was governed by both a junta and a democratically elected president and hosted thousands of foreign troops. We build on existing literature by providing variation on a) the types of leaders (elected or non-elected) who benefit from a rally; b) the capacity of the state to respond to repeated threats to territorial sovereignty; and c) the presence of international interveners. We demonstrate that citizens rally in response to initial threat, even behind leaders that were not elected. Further, support for political leaders declines substantially over time– even in the context of repeated threats. However, we observe that as the rally that domestic leaders benefit from declines, there is growth in support for international interveners, suggesting that citizens evaluate domestic and international interveners independently. By examining the rally effect in a fragile state context, this paper sheds light on the mechanisms that drive rallies and how citizens perceive their leadership in threat conditions.